When you're 15 years old and looking for your very first car, you're a dreamer. I remember i was so sold on the fact that as soon as i got my license, i was getting a World Rally Blue WRX STI. Gold wheels, blue paint, hood scoop, yuge (sorry i was under the impression our president elect actually changed the spelling) high wing, whats not to love? unfortunately my dreams were crushed when i looked into market prices of the Subaru so i ended up buying a Tornado Red Golf GTI, but thats a story for another time. Moral of the story, Jake refused to let his age determine what he could do.
With 16 approaching fast, Jake was set on finding a project of his own to wrench on during the weekends. Knowing he had a 350 big block sitting around in a barn at his grandparents he figured American muscle would be the fastest route to a badass first car. After looking at various other Camaros and Trans Ams he was able to find a real 2nd generation Z/28 locally.
The rough paint and interior weren't enough to turn him away from an engine with so much potential. The previous owner claimed the car was fitted with a 383 stroker pushing out 430 horsepower. After going for a test drive Jake was sold, it was the fastest thing he has ever been in to date. The car was a four-speed manual and loud as hell, what more do you want when your 15? The power doors, power windows and T-tops were just added benefits.
With nothing mechanical to worry about, Jake and his father were able to start making progress on the body soon as they took the car off the trailer. In no way was this considered a full restoration, this wasn't a going to be a show car. Jake comes from a family that likes to drive and he planned on building a car to do just that, drive. Between technical knowledge and some elbow grease, all the body work and paint prep was done in the driveway whenever it was nice enough to work outside. Once the car was prepped it was shipped to a family friend Jake could trust to give it a good paint job without breaking the bank.
The final product was great, better than anyone expected. Although it ended up being a tad off the original color, it was still one beautiful piece of machinery. After paint, the car was on the road for about a year. The motor wasn't running the way he remembered on that first test drive but that didn't turn him away from driving. Since the car looked good and still drove decent Jake figured it was time to take care of the "crap" interior.
As you can see the interior was indeed crap. A few pennies (maybe more than a few but lets not talk about that) later and Jake was able to source an interior kit that replicated the original innards of the Z/28. The kit was dark blue vinyl on the outside with cloth inserts, and let me tell you did it look good. All was well....for a week.
As a car enthusiast you know how it goes, if everything is going right something is about to go wrong. The Camaro looked good and the inside looked brand new so naturally the engine decided to detonate. However, Jake saw opportunity in the sh*t storm. In our small New Hampshire farm town, our high school requires us to perform 40 hours of anything we chose that either gives back to the community or betters ourselves as young adults. He was able to take advantage of his situation and use the rebuild of his engine as his "Senior project".
Jake was able to recruit the help of a local racing shop to guide him through the process so there was quick hope for the engine. With access to the shops tools, lifts, materials and technical guidance he was able to get a better understanding of the engine and how to can crank some extra horses out of her. Part of this understanding was discovering that after all this time the previous owner wasn't honest during the sales process. To add insult to injury the team informed Jake that the engine ended up being a lower displacement 355 small block instead of the 383 stroker that was essentially the selling point of the car. No matter, Jake and the team carried on. However, the deeper they got into the engine the messier things got.
Once the mess was taken care of the focus of the build shifted to longevity and reliability. Something he can get in, start, drive wherever he needed to go and not worry about what is going to break next. As the build continued it made sense to rebuild the transmission while the engine bay was empty so they wouldn't have to pull it again months down the road.
The freshly rebuilt tranny was pieced together with a Borgwarner super T-10 fitted with a Hurst shifter, and a brand new Centerforce clutch to ensure the efficiency of the setup. Once the Engine and Transmission were back in Jake essentially had a (mechanically) new '81 Z/28. Although he didn't expect the workload that was going to go into the car, he sure as hell doesn't regret how it ended up.
Not many people can say they built their dream car. Even less can say they did it with their own hands. It falls back to the concept of "build vs. Bought". The satisfaction you get in creating something you love cant be put into words, its visual pride. I see this pride every time he starts it, every time he washes it, every time he does a burnout, and even when its put away for winter. People are too easy to give up on their dream, be like Jake. Dont.